For the first time ever, three black women are holding the head titles of the country’s biggest national beauty pageants. Behind the natural hairstyles of two of them (Miss USA Cheslie Krist and Miss Teen USA Kaleigh Garris) is Joy Williams, the Executive Master Educator for CHI and a textured hair specialist. Below, Williams shares her curly hair tips and experience, her thoughts on beauty inclusivity, and what it was like to be a part of this important moment in the natural hair movement.
How long have you been doing pageant hair?
I’ve had experience with pageant hair since I graduated cosmetology school in 2010. I would literally reach out and ask if they needed volunteers and then show up with my tools because I wanted the experience. I have now done several state and local pageants, in addition to fitness competitions and fashion shows. This was my first time at Miss USA, however.
Do you specialize in curly hair? How did you become an expert with curly hair?
Yes, I am a texture specialist. I have curly hair myself and I’m constantly switching back and forth between curly and straight. In addition, I took the time to learn about the different textures and types in order to service curly hair clients. I went to classes and trainings with different artists to make sure that I fully understood.
Why is natural hair important to you?
JW: Natural hair is important to me because historically it was suggested to those with naturally curly hair were somehow in the wrong or not beautiful simply because it was different. That messaging has affected women negatively for generations. Notice, I didn’t just say black women. Curly hair is texture, and all ethnicities have texture of some sort. I believe all people have the right to feel beautiful just as they were made, and the natural hair movement has done that for natural and curly textures of all races.
The Miss USA and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants are obviously two of the biggest definers of beauty standards for this country. How does it feel to be the stylist behind this culture-defining moment?
It feels amazing. I am absolutely honored and humbled that my gift led me to this space in time. I was ecstatic just to be invited to work Miss USA, but to end up being involved at this capacity is mind-blowing.
Miss Teen USA mentioned in an interview with Refinery29 her winning finger-curling style and how long it took. Can you share some other unique techniques for achieving defined curls?
Finger-coiling is definitely one of my favorites. In addition, the LOC method is a curly girl’s secret weapon—L is for liquid/leave in, O is for oil (can be a serum as well) and C is for cream. It’s a step-by-step process for how to lock in moisture and softness for curly hair. That’s the technique I used on Miss USA before and during the pageant, and on Miss Teen USA following her big win. Also depending on the hair type, I do a lot of styling with just my fingers. I use a wide-tooth comb to detangle after shampooing with conditioner (the CHI Aloe Vera Curls Defined Detangling Conditioner is my favorite, and then I only use a comb for parting—it’s important to limit the amount of disturbance to the curl pattern.
If you had any advice or tips to give to curly-haired women, what would it be? What about advice for hairstylists specializing in curly hair?
For curly girls, I’d say embrace it! Curly hair is accepted more now than ever before—we just have to learn to accept it ourselves. Don’t be afraid to stand out in the crowd, but also be sure to take care of those tresses with deep conditioning treatments and trims when necessary.
For hairstylists, I believe that even if you don’t specialize in curly hair, it’s crucial to have a working knowledge of the different hair types. I think some people might be intimidated by the volume or look of curly hair, but if we change our mindsets and understand that curly hair is simply textured hair and that even curly hair can be fine, medium and coarse, we can start to change our approach. Our clients are more educated than they ever have been as a result of the information they can easily get online, so we must educate ourselves constantly. Take some classes, get out of your comfort zone and get your hands dirty. That is what sets us apart as professionals in this Industry.
Both Miss Teen USA and Miss USA won wearing their natural curls. What do you think this means for the future of beauty, both in and out of pageants?
I think the future of beauty is looking very inclusive. I love what I’m seeing! Also, the fact that each of these women have different curly hair types also adds to the diversity on display. Pageants, I think, are still very much relevant because they showcase examples of hardworking, influential women that have the platform to impact everyone watching. Outside of pageants, I think this is great for little girls and boys growing up and seeing a real-life example of someone that looks like them or someone is proud of the way they look—that representation is life changing. I didn’t have such diverse examples when I was a kid, so I’m so happy that the next generation does. It also means that businesses, companies, agencies and any other entity in and around the beauty industry must sit up and take notice. Curly hair is here to stay!